The FINANCIAL -- Interview with Archil Bakuradze, Founder and Executive Chairman of Crystal
Q. How would you describe Crystal’s CSR initiatives and practices?
A. While Crystal is a development platform with a mission to defeat poverty in Georgia, we try to spread and promote entrepreneurship in a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable way. To pursue the above-mentioned desired outcome, Crystal directs its CSR activities and initiatives towards 3 Ps: Profit, People and Planet. Our strategic goals are set to reach these outcomes, and most importantly this customer-centric and solutions-based approach helps Crystal to move away from the sole emphasis on credit and to focus on customers’ needs.
Therefore, I can describe our CSR initiatives and practices as customer-centric, people-oriented and environment-friendly.
Q. What is the main challenge that Crystal is facing at present in the field of financial education?
A. Financial education, largely, is definitely one of today’s big global challenges.
The world we live in keeps on evolving and growing, and financial literacy is the economic foundation of financial well-being. Moreover, the World Bank estimates the world will need 600 million new jobs in the next 10 years just to keep global employment rates. The problem is even greater in rural communities.
At Crystal’s level, evidence shows that the main challenge in the field of financial literacy is lack of interest in financial knowledge and skills. Evidence also shows that some key demographic groups, e.g. the elderly, migrants, females, etc., are characterized and affected the most by financial illiteracy and unawareness.
But being the financial development platform for entrepreneurs, we believe that one of the main objectives of a financial inclusion institution - like ours - is creating value with entrepreneurship programmes, and Crystal’s Youth Entrepreneurship School serves this belief. The School has existed for 3 years already with the goal to provide youth with financial skills and knowledge that is compatible with best practices in adult and lifelong learning and benefits from technological developments and new capabilities.
Studies confirm that raising financial awareness can be a powerful tool to help fight unemployment, as financial literacy is directly linked to financial stability.But because the challenge itself is not only related to financial institutions, it also requires the involvement of a wide range of government, private, third-sector, local and international institutional partners.
Q. How have CSR activities helped Crystal? Can the experience of Crystal in CSR be helpful to other organizations in Georgia?
A. CSR activities have always been an integral part of Crystal’s business and helped us to reach our customers faster and more effectively. Additionally, Crystal’s comparative advantage is that we view and offer ourselves as a platform for development, which provides customers with services they need for their development, economic and human. Our CSR activities were and are the reflections of this belief.
With this belief we are giving birth to and implementing our CSR activities. Furthermore, being aligned with the UN SDG goals - with our CSR activities - helps us do our business more responsibly and sustainably.
What’s more, last year we became the Most Responsible Business Award Grand-Prize winner at the Meliora 2018 nation-wide competition. This is a great recognition, indeed, but an even greater responsibility and we think our CSR activities and sustainable development beliefs led us to this victory; this can be inspiring for other companies in Georgia.
Q. In terms of social projects, what have you implemented already and what have the results been?
A. From the already implemented CSR projects of Crystal, I would mention some recent ones, namely: Women’s leadership workshop (conducted by the Canadian trainer - Adriana Greenblatt) as a result of our fruitful cooperation with the UN Women Georgia for years already. This was the first time Crystal participated in a workshop of this nature, drawing on a participatory approach, with the main goal to build trust, collaboration, confidence and motivation amongst women at Crystal, to define gaps and barriers to participation of women in decision-making processes, including difficulties for women in accessing professional development and leadership opportunities within Crystal and to generate ideas for piloting a women’s mentorship programme.
On the same note, half of our 100,000 customers and 1,000 + staff members are women. We are also very proud that we are one of the first 5 companies in Georgia who signed the WEPs (Women Empowerment Principles).
Another important project, especially while talking about financial literacy and well-being, is Crystal’s Youth Entrepreneurship School “YES Georgia”. It started 3 years ago in cooperation with the USAID, PH International and Crystal Fund. In total, in Tbilisi and in about 20 municipalities of Georgia, around 150 young people were admitted to the Youth Entrepreneurs’ School (out of 1,000 youths, who took part in the training programmes), 35 of which were funded by Crystal. It’s worth mentioning that all these businesses were/are environmentally friendly, and do not cause any harm to the environment. Those youth start-ups are quite diverse, varying from web-based projects/applications focusing on education to tourism development to agricultural products to digital services.
On top of it all, I would mention our innovative Green Products and Green line, which started in 2016 in collaboration with the Dutch Development Bank - FMO. It had already generated more than GEL 4.5 mln and disbursed more than 5,000 ‘Green’ loans.
Crystal aligns its CSR objectives to the chosen UN SDG goals, and with those particular above-mentioned CSR actions we are aligning with the UN SDG Goal 5 (Gender Equality), UN SDG Goal 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth) and UN SDG Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy).
Q. What is Crystal doing to help social enterprises in today’s market?
A. Because social enterprises are businesses with primarily social or environmental objectives, they add value to their local communities. The ways social enterprises differ from traditional businesses can be extremely beneficial to the community as a whole in a multitude of ways. Crystal - as a development platform - while trying to make a positive impact on the communities where we are represented (62 branches and boutiques around Georgia), supports social enterprises in different regions. Some of the social enterprises Crystal is cooperating with are: Arabuli ArtHouse, Green Gift, Tsnuli, Hangi, Knowledge Café (Tsnori), Babale and the Mziuri Café.
Q. Can you share one brief story about how Crystal’s CSR practice is helping Georgian businesses thrive?
A. Corporate responsibility is a way for businesses (whether in Georgia or anywhere else) to take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their business operations. A robust CSR programme is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate their good corporate citizenship.
To illustrate how critical CSR has become, a 2017 study by Cone Communications found that more than 60 percent of citizens hope businesses will drive social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation. Most consumers surveyed (87%) said they would purchase a product because a company supported an issue they care about. More importantly, an enormous 76% will refuse to buy from a company if they learn it supports an issue contrary to their own beliefs.
It will be difficult to choose only 1 Crystal CSR story or impact, because it is a combination of all of our responsible corporate practices that makes a difference, and those might motivate other Georgian businesses as well: Whether it’s taking care of children with leukaemia and providing joy and a smile to them with Clown Care; whether it’s our Green Boxes in the Crystal offices - recycling paper; whether it’s measuring the environmental impact; whether its empowering our women staff members and customers; whether it’s investing in youth through our Youth Entrepreneurship School or Borrow Wisely Campaign, raising awareness and knowledge of financial literacy related topics among our customers and youth; whether it’s supporting Sisters Ajalovas - young girls leading their Foreign Language Center business in Marneuli; it is the